Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Genetic Engineering and Eugenics in Modern Obstetrics

An important topic for discussion for any nurse considering women’s health nursing is genetic engineering and eugenics.  Many people may choose to ignore the reality of this topic, citing religious beliefs. However, science and technology is rapidly approaching a time when many things that were once considered science fiction are becoming a reality. The modern obstetrical nurse needs to be prepared to face these issues when she enters the work force.
            Science is taking us farther every day, and it is far from finished with the journey.  A medical fact that is discussed in doctor’s offices far more than we probably realize is genetic engineering.  The subject matter can be presented in several lights.  It can be as unimpeachable as checking the genetic markers in a fetus for their likelihood of developing Huntington’s disease or as blatant as designing one’s own child right down to their eye color.  
BBC News reports about a six year old boy who had a rare and serious illness.  Neither his parents nor his younger sister were a good enough genetic match for treating his disorder with a bone marrow transplant, so they made a sibling who was a good match.  His parents made a match for him.  That’s right; they just threw together the scientific magic and test tube mixing that created a baby specifically to be a donor child for their ill son. 
            Even the most open minded individuals can be caught off guard when confronted with the realities of modern genetic engineering. It is not something that we often think of, but society as a whole is moving towards the acceptance of it. There are references to genetic engineering in ObamaCare in as much as using eugenics for its cost savings benefits.  It is a valid point.  Think about this:  they are weighing the cost effectiveness of determining in utero whether a person will make a productive adult or be dependent their entire lives.
            An article in Forbes suggests that science will never be able to write the complete genetic code from the ground up, but the Human Genome Project is making progress every day.  There are plenty of scientists and ethicists who claim that eugenics and gene therapy is and is not moral and/or ethical.  There are pamphlets available to anyone who cares to see about how exactly cloning, genetic engineering and stem cell harvesting can be done and how it can benefit an ailing family.  One can assume that as your bank account grows, so too do your options for creating the perfect little family and the pamphlets for gene therapy may be stacked right alongside the ones for STIs and planned parenthood.  Eugenics does bring a whole new connotation to “planned parenthood” doesn’t it?
            Simple eugenics is already in action in our town, in the offices of every obstetrician in practice when we test fetuses for Down’s Syndrome, or view an ultrasound and make the decision to abort a fetus that has severe congenital anomalies. Human kind is already benefitting from this, and can benefit further if we can prevent diseases such as Tay-Sach’s, Sickle Cell Anemia, and Cystic Fibrosis.  We must recognize that these are not the only implications and sometimes we will be hard pressed to maintain our composure and keep our opinions to ourselves.  It will become part of the essence of professional nursing care to recognize elective surgeries and procedures no matter what form they come in and carry out our duties to our clients.
            This topic was not intended to pit one side against the other, or to vilify anyone; merely to raise the issue that as professionals we will be providing care for these women and their babies.  We owe it to our clients and ourselves to stay apprised of advances in medicine that make it more and more likely that we will encounter this.  We cannot hide from technology, but we can embrace it and enrich ourselves and the lives of our clients if we are better educated.

(2010). Disease Elimination. Future Human Evolution.  Retrieved from
(2010). Eugenics, Genetic Engineering Lite. Future Human Evolution.  Retrieved from
Brochures for Patients: Human Cloning and Genetic Modification. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. Retrieved from
Knapp, Alex. (September 15, 2011). Is Ethical Human Genetic Enhancement Possible.  Forbes. Retrieved from
Taranto, James. (March 15, 2010). ObamaCare and Eugenics.  The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved from
Walsh, Fergus. (October 20, 2004). Brother’s tissue ‘cures’ sick boy.  BBC News. Retrieved from
Wilcken, B. (September 27, 2011). Ethical issues in genetics. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 47(9), 668-671. Doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1754.2011.02168.x Retrieved from

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